Friday, June 01, 2012

Writing about Writing

I write in a capricious fashion. I am a Capricornian but I behave otherwise. Unlike the goat, I climb in spurts, ascending quickly but pausing long to catch my breath. Writing to me was always secondary and a corollary to the art of reading. At some point of time, I fell prey to a strange malaise where I identified so closely with the author that I began imagining myself to be one. We are still to find out if I was delusional,  misdirected, or merely being told by a distracted parent to find ways to stop being bored.

I feel about my writing the same way I feel about myself. I don't know how the two of us are seen from the outside. Even as I see us both from the inside and outside*. This of course is the classic problem of identity, namely the physical and psychological impossibility of seeing ourselves. And so I do not know what people see when I write. Much as I do not know what people see when I put myself out into the world.

The material as we all know is out there. For example, in the last three weeks I have been to Austin, New Orleans, New York City, and Boston. I have met friends, family, and strangers. We have chatted about life, space, music, manias, and happenstance. A stranger in a supermarket told me he liked my turquoise toes; toes that were painted by a lovely kindly lady in a BYOB nail salon even as I drank Blue Moon with a dear friend. The plane landed in New Orleans over tree-like forms arising eerily from slushy, unstable land-water. The bus from New York city to Boston almost asphyxiated us until a smart fellow passenger suggested we open the sun-roof. We danced under a Boston sky and a Harvard canopy to Ace of Base.

There are tales for the taking and giving. And yet, I am lazy and shy. In unequal measure.

Sometimes I consult books. Such as this one that tells you the usual things. Essentially that writing is a skill and is therefore incumbent upon forming a few habits and sticking to them. In other words, write regularly. Then I go look at writers' rooms. And finally I look to other writers for rules, mantras, and all the secret knowledge one hopes they have garnered from being writers. And then I go run. Or climb walls.

I ran for a total of twenty minutes today. It is neither impressive nor suggestive. When I was running regularly, I could manage a maximum of forty minutes and cover about three miles. I was both reluctant and slow. I am not a natural runner and neither do I keep up the practice. However, I have begun in recent years to enjoy it much more than I ever did when I was writing my dissertation. Then, everything was forced and most things were a burden. But then as much as now, the awareness of the body in complete exclusion of everything else helps. Especially when everything else seems more and more overwhelming by the day and all-encompassing to the point where I am unable to write. So I run, as Murakami does, in search of the void. Climbing walls is even more fun. But we will save that for another long-winded day.

So I ran and came back to this half-filled page. Then I went back to notes and half-bitten documents spanning the last five years. A trifle narcissistic perhaps, but also surprisingly enlightening. If you ever indulge in this exercise, you will know what I'm talking about when I say it's partly schizophrenic, and mostly just a relief. To know that one has written. In other words, that one can write. And I read my long ago words the way I would read a random page in a random book off the library shelf. And am surprisingly astounded that I can manage both distance and understanding. And jouissance. As a reader. I can write. And I can read. And I can separate the two. And in honor of this newfound old understanding, I give you page one of a story I abandonded a long time ago. Even as I wonder if the author will ever come back to this tale.

Nightfall: A Story in Many Parts 

It is morning. I am writing. The sun slants in dusty and indolent. Well actually it’s supposed to be bright and perky, but I decided against such a sun. How? Oh, easy enough; put the blinds down. What manner of creature am I to play with the elements thus? Cyborgian my love, cyborgian. Women implant breasts, men inject hormones, transsexuals reassign sex, and I? I merely play with the sun. Perhaps because I am hoping to keep it away. Besides, to me lack of light is quietude. And if I am to tell my story, we must be quiet on the outside and noisy on the inside. Your organs and mine should rattle as I tell this tale. It is a fine tale of murder, sex, velvet curtains, and pole dancers. Alright, perhaps not pole dancers. But you get the drift. It begins on a sunny afternoon, and ends in the middle of the night. It moves from light and hope, to silence and the end. Just like life, don’t you think? So yes, this story is my grand metaphor. For life itself.

He speaks endlessly. And cannot bear anyone else interrupting. I make him breakfast, clean his house, and walk his turtle. All morning long, he speaks into tapes. The tapes are then laboriously labeled and catalogued. Sometimes it takes him a week to name a category. They are all names of places, his labels. Towns, and cities, and hamlets. But not the Parises, the Mumbais, the New Yorks; not even the exotica; Mombasa or Cairo, or Buenos Aires. They are ghost towns. Bodie, Grand Bassam, and Daulatabad. His ghostly life of tall tales and vanished lives.

At night, he writes. In beautiful slanting cursive writing. In the light of candles. For it’s the monsoon, and the electricity doesn’t stay any more than his attention span. He is a writer, and I am his housekeeper. Together, we make up the world.

*Complete digression, but do read John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" for an extended set of thoughts on the relationship between seeing and knowing.